October 10, 2005
Grogan's Grade: Week 5
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots rebounded from their humiliating loss to San Diego last week with an exciting 31-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday. What was your take on the pulse-pounding victory?
Steve Grogan: I guess the experts started predicting the demise of the Patriots a little too soon. This was a great game to watch from start to finish; it just had a little bit of everything. It’s amazing to me how the Patriots just have an amazing knack for pulling out close games at the end. Tom Brady is Mr. Clutch moving them down the field to get them into field goal position and then with the game on the line Adam Vinatieri never misses. It really is incredible. There were a lot of twists and turns in this one. There was that horrible call by the officials when they ruled Atlanta quarterback Matt Schaub out of bounds and prevented the Falcons from converting a third down that could have changed the entire outcome of the game. I was surprised to see that the call wasn’t reviewable, and even though I heard the explanation I’m not sure why it’s set up that way.
The Patriots got a break on the pass interference call involving Deion Branch to keep what turned out to be their game-winning drive alive. They had started that drive with a couple of penalties that moved them backwards and it looked like they would be tough to overcome, but Brady put the ball up for grabs and the Falcon defender Allen Rossum made an extremely poor play and it got the Patriots out of the hole. Like I said it was a fun game, but while this Patriots team looks like it is going to score a lot of points it’s also starting to look like they’ll be giving up a lot of points. It’s going to be a shootout every week with this team for the time being, and while they make for fun games to watch it’s hard to win all of them when you’re trying to outscore somebody every week like that.
RRM: Bill Belichick tossed his headset in the air at the end of the game in a rare display of emotion for him. He quickly returned to form and was his usually subdued self in the postgame press conference, but didn’t that impromptu celebration of his shock you a little?
SG: I was a little surprised to see that from him but I can understand how he is feeling right now. Every time you thought the Patriots were taking control of the game here would come Atlanta back again. It was really an emotional, roller coaster-type of game, and while it was fun to watch for us as fans as a head coach it will drive you crazy. This is a team that has been questioned a lot lately; they are banged up and their first six games are against some formidable opposition. I think he knows they have to come out of this stretch no worse than 3-3 which meant they had to win either this one or next week’s game on the road. This sets them up in great shape, and I think all his emotions started flowing out when the game was finally over with.
RRM: In the modern NFL it’s pretty rare if you get more than two deep throws by a team in a game, but in this one I lost count of all the long bombs by halftime. Knowing your penchant for the long ball why do I have a feeling this was your kind of football game?
SG: The ball was going down the field, and there were just so many big plays by both teams. The two quarterbacks combined to throw for over 600 yards and they weren’t shy about throwing it deep. You’re right, that was my kind of game and I really enjoyed that a lot. That’s good old-time football!
RRM: Tom Brady’s 55-yard TD bomb to Bethel Johnson might have brought down some rain if they hadn’t been playing indoors. Since you’re the expert on the long pass why don’t you talk us through the play?
SG: That was an interesting play because the Falcons blitzed on the play and left Bethel Johnson in one-on-one coverage with the Atlanta corner Jason Webster. It looked to me like both Johnson and the defender slowed down around the 30-yardine. Johnson may have thought he was getting too far away and he hesitated slightly which in turn caused Webster to also hesitate, but Johnson turned back to the ball just a bit sooner and saw the ball was still headed down the field and accelerated to get it. He ended up just blowing Webster away on that play, and later you could see Falcons’ head coach Jim Mora on the sidelines turning to his assistant coaches and saying,” He stopped! He just stopped!” There really wasn’t any reason for him to stop, he just lost sight of the ball because Brady had thrown it so high. Brady got decked on the play and never saw the touchdown, and I can tell you from experience that’s the fun way to throw a long ball. You feel somebody coming in your face and you know you have a fast guy downfield, so you just throw it as far as you can and hope he runs under it.
RRM: The Patriots spent all week preparing for Michael Vick by having Doug Flutie running around all over the field in practice. How much does it affect your defensive game plan to prepare for someone like that all week only to have him end up a no show come game time?
SG: You have to hope that is still works [laughs]! Michael Vick is a very talented athlete that gives you a lot of problems that nobody else in this league can give you at the quarterback position. I think the fact that they didn’t have to face Vick, particularly with Richard Seymour missing the game, helped them a great deal. Matt Schaub played a different kind of game and he did cause the Patriots a few problems. I think one of the main points in the Patriots’ plan was to shut down the Falcons’ running game, and I thought the defense did a pretty good job with that (Atlanta was held to only 116 yards on the ground). They came into the game wanting to take away the run and to keep Vick in the pocket and make him throw the ball to beat them. They implemented that game plan anyway and found out that this kid Schaub throws the ball pretty well. I was very impressed with the performance he turned in. He’s a very good player, but he may not play there for very long because of the presence of Michael Vick. I imagine just like Brett Favre ended up leaving Atlanta and winding up in Green Bay, Schaub will eventually become a starting quarterback for some other team.
RRM: Corey Dillon bounced back to record his first 100-yard rushing game of the season while also surpassing the 10,000-yard mark for his career. What were your thoughts on the return of the Patriots’ running attack?
SG: It was certainly good to see Corey Dillon run the way he did against the Falcons and to have the running game get back to the point where it is such an effective weapon like it was last year. I noticed the Patriots started the game by running the ball with Dillon quite a bit to the left side where the two rookies on the offensive line are. Atlanta showed they have some weaknesses up front defensively so they just kept pounding at them and it was a good sign to see that New England offensive line finally do some damage. They created some holes in that undersized Atlanta front seven and that really opened things up for the Patriots offense to do a lot of things the rest of the game.
RRM: Tight ends Daniel Graham and Ben Watson combined to catch six passes in this game with two going for touchdowns after having managed only seven receptions between them through the Patriots first four games. I guess that must have been a welcome sight to an old QB’s eyes?
SG: The tight ends are asked to do a lot in the Patriots’ system so even though they aren’t catching footballs doesn’t mean they aren’t being productive. There’s nothing more fun for me than watching what Daniel Graham did on his touchdown catch, which was essentially a run by him. A quarterback gets a big kick out of completing a pass to one of his biggest targets and then just watching him run downfield and having people bounce off of him. I just love watching a player do that, and it helps pad a quarterback's stats at the same time!
After watching what their two tight ends did to the Falcons in this game you almost have to feel sorry for the rest of the NFL. The Patriots have so many weapons that they can throw at an opponent right now that I don’t know how you game plan against them. If you take away the wide receivers they have three good tight ends that catch the ball well. If you try to stop the run they will throw the ball against you, and vice versa. They just do so many things well it must give opposing defensive coaches nightmares trying to anticipate everything the Patriots can throw at them.
RRM: The Patriots could have made this game a lot easier on themselves if Asante Samuel and Duane Starks hadn’t dropped potential interceptions. Any chance the secondary can develop a little more of a ballhawking attitude the rest of the season?
SG: The Patriots defense did make life a lot harder for themselves in this game. Their secondary dropped a few balls that could have been intercepted and I don’t know how you go about correcting that other than having the defensive backs catch more balls in practice. Right now it looks to me like this Patriots defense is still trying to find it’s identity. They have two new inside linebackers and some young guys in the secondary and sometimes they look confused. I really think they’re missing Rodney Harrison because he was the guy that gave direction to the young defensive backs last year when they kept losing players. He was the constant on that defense. He was the one that could turn around and point and direct someone to where they were supposed to be. He’s not there right now, and there isn’t anyone who can step up and assume that responsibility.
RRM: With the Buffalo Bills holding on to bump off Miami on Sunday the Patriots find themselves back in first place in the AFC East with their 3-2 record. Do you see a threat for the division title emerging from any of the other AFC East clubs?
SG: No, not really. None of the AFC East teams really scare me right now. If the Patriots can get through this stretch of what are six really tough games to start the season and end up no worse than 3-3 after the Denver game I think they will be in good shape. If you look at the rest of the schedule the Colts are really the only team left that is a viable playoff contender. I really think they will be in great shape if they can get to the bye week at 3-3, but 4-2 would be better!
RRM: The Jets brought 42-year old Vinny Testaverde back last week to play quarterback. God forbid, but if both Tom Brady and Doug Flutie go down this week are you keeping in shape if they need you?
SG: I’m ready, just have them give me a call [laughs]!
RRM: The reward for the clutch victory in Atlanta is an all expense paid trip to Denver for a game against the Broncos this Sunday. What is your early take on what awaits the Pats in the Mile High City?
SG: Denver has always been a tough place to play and an even tougher place to win. If the Broncos are allowed to run the ball well they become a very hard team to beat. So the game plan once again is to take away the run and let the opposing quarterback beat you. Denver quarterback Jake Plummer isn’t the most consistent quarterback you’ll see in the NFL. There are some games where he looks great and he’ll absolutely kill you, and there are other games where he is just horrible. Playing on the road two consecutive weeks is always a challenge, but I like their chances in this game.
RRM: What are Grogan’s grades for the big 31-28 win over the Falcons in Week #5? SG: I’ll give the offense an A and the defense a B. You have to remember that this Falcons team was in the NFC Championship Game a year ago so they are a formidable opponent, making this win an impressive accomplishment for this team. Tom Brady gets a gameball for just another matter of fact performance from him, 22 of 27 for 350 yards and three touchdowns. He is just an incredible player. Every time he goes out there and gets better it just amazes me because you don’t think it’s possible for him to get any better, but he does. Of course, Adam Vinatieri gets one for making the game-winning field goal. The CBS broadcasters said if Belichick, Brady, and Vinatieri all retired today they’d all be locks for the Hall of Fame and I’d have to agree with them. Just look at what they’ve accomplished in a short period of time together, and I don’t think anyone has been better at doing what they are doing. But let’s hope they don’t opt for retirement just yet because they have a game in Denver this week and it would be nice to grab another win on the road to go into the bye week at 4-2.
A veteran writer on the Boston sports scene, R. R. Marshall has written features for both local and national sports publications for more than a decade. His popular Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in both the electronic and print media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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